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Portland, The City of Pop-ups

The City's Collaborative Spirit is Popping Up in Unexpected Ways

In Portland, the city’s collaborative spirit is taking over kitchen-by-kitchen in new fresh ways. Makers markets and art shows are sprinkled throughout Portland each weekend, and secret roller discos are the place to be on Thursday nights. This ingenuity and resourcefulness' of the city’s pop-up culture is defining Portland as the "City of Pop-Ups.”

Community-driven and scrappy to its core, the hospitality industry is where the pop-up scene is most evident, as more space and opportunities for fellow entrepreneurs are being created to experiment and thrive in and around the city. Long-standing establishments have become collaborative kitchens, inviting colleagues to use their space to make and serve their food on the days their restaurants are closed. Pop-ups focus on collaborative menus that meld recipes and ingredients that span different cultures to create a beautiful fusion of flavor. The Portland pop-up scene is also making its way into other cities with chefs like Thuy Pham of Mama Dut and Carlo Lamagna of Magna Kusina regularly popping up in other cities.

Below are a few examples of culinary pop-ups in Portland, and this just scratches the surface of experiences you’ll find in the Rose City.

Upcoming / Ongoing Pop-Ups (as of August 2023):

  • Chef Luna Contreras is arguably one of the most visible faces on the Portland pop-up scene through both consistent collaboration with other food industry friends, farmer’s markets selling her own hot sauces, and hosting her own pop-ups, like Chelo – which pays homage to the memory of her beloved grandmother. Growing up, her family ran a small restaurant out of their home, instilling a love for cooking that carries Contreras through today. Pop-ups are a way of life for her, giving Luna the flexibility to create, grow and collaborate, which she finds easier out of the confines of a brick-and-mortar. Keep up with Luna on her Instagram, where you can follow along for details on her upcoming brunch and bakery pop-up at Libre, a soon-to-open restaurant by Nan Chaison of Mestizo PDX and Gabriella Martinez of Sweet Creature.

  • Every Monday – Wednesday, Filipino-American food cart owners Ethan and Geri Leung of Baon Kainan lend out their cart to Chef Aaron Hoshabekian of Outer Haven. Here, Hoshabekian showcases his Armenian heritage through a five-dish menu at the center of which is the Lahmajun Wrap using handmade lavash bread. Baon Kainan itself started as a food cart at MattaPDX, who recently closed their cart to take up residency at Dame Collective beginning August 21, 2023. There, Chef Richard Van Le will serve a “Viet Kieu” experience, featuring a menu that represents “what happens when you raise a Vietnamese kid in the east side of San Jose, CA, and what kind of stories can be told from that.”

  • Chef Lauro Romero is bringing some of his childhood favorites to life at his pop-up, Clandestino PDX – a project he started in 2019 before he helmed the culinary team at lauded República – at the Dame Collective. Still involved in Clandestino, Romero has joined the team at The Ritz-Carlton, Portland (opening Fall 2023) and his predecessor, Chef Alfonso “Poncho” Torres, has stepped in as Head Chef at Clandestino. Here, Chefs Romero and Torres take diners on a journey through the foods of Mexico in creative yet familiar ways. Keep track of upcoming events on Instagram here.

  • David Rodriguez and Nick Flower, two staples in Portland’s bar industry, have teamed up to create Face/Off, a pop-up focusing on high quality cocktails and creating a fun, electric atmosphere. Their menus aim to serve cheerful and forgotten classic cocktails like Paloma's and sours, as well as things like the Imperial Buck. While each plan individual projects, they appear around the city on a regular basis. Follow along on Instagram for upcoming events, and on Flowers’ upcoming new bar – Too Soon – opening fall 2023.

  • The monthly pop-up Euzumeh gets its name from the Arabic word for “invitation.” It’s a fitting namesake for the welcoming energy and soul-stirring food coming from Chef Tamara Hattar. Here, Chef Hattar pairs her upbringing around her family’s Jordanian home-cooked meals with her early career days at San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions and local Portland favorite Ava Gene’s. Hattar brought her pop-up concept to Eastern Oregon before returning to the cozy and community-minded space at Café Olli. While continuing her Euzumeh pop-up, Chef Hattar is also the culinary mind behind the buzzy new bar, The Uncanny, which recently opened along the popular Mississippi Avenue. Here, she gives her Middle Eastern culinary lens to standard pub fare—that's beautifully paired with an exceptional bar program. You can also find Tamara at the iconic Portland Farmers Market where she sells her delicious dips, pickles, and sourdough pita.

  • Chef Adán Fausto continues to reinvent himself through Portland’s pop-up scene. In 2022, Chef Fausto was the founder of Paradise Mariscos, located behind Güero, where he served Mexican-style seafood popular in the Los Angeles neighborhood where he grew up. In 2023, his pop-up Tacos Con Onda was one of the most hyped pop-ups of the summer, filling the backyard of Woodsman Tavern with smells of mesquite-grilled carne asada and fresh flour tortillas. Keep an eye on his Instagram to see where Fausto will be popping up next.

Restaurants have become home bases for budding restaurants to test their concepts and save up to open their own brick-and-mortars, as represented by the below spots:

  • Street Disco, a SE Portland hot spot, started as a seafood pop-up and has a permanent locale on SE 60th serving seafood, beautiful bone marrow and meatball dishes, and now hosts a rotating series of pop-ups weekly (check out their Instagram for details).

  • From summer dance parties to Vietnamese, Filipino and Mexican seated dinners, Nan Chaison of Mestizo PDX has been a huge proponent of the city’s pop-up scene. During the pandemic, Nan opened up her space to fellow business owners to create, in turn helping her to support her own staff. Today, she hosts a steady rotation of pop-up collaborations that run the gamut from the Big Easy flavors of Gris Gris Kitchen to Vietnamese Brunch Series by Chém Gió. Chaison is set to open Libre in partnership with Contreras and Martinez as noted above. Check their Instagram page for regular updates on pop-ups and beyond.

  • At Magna Kusina, Food & Wine Best New Chef 2021 and James Beard Award Nominee Chef Carlo Lamagna, who started as a pop-up - Twisted Filipino, regularly opens his SE Portland spot to fellow employees and industry colleagues interested in sharing their passions. From Filipino-owned coffee pop-up Kalesa, which will have its own brick-and-mortar to JEM, a tasting menu pop-up experience and Puerto Rica pop-up WEPA, and more.

  • St. Johns’ popular pizza shop, Gracie’s Apizza, opened its kitchen to Bolonga-style pasta pop-up purveyor Pastificio d’Oro in early September 2021 on the days was closed. From there, they drew a following for its from-scratch dishes and relaxing vibe, so much so that owner Chase Dopson and partner Maggie Irwin have officially taken over the space, with Gracie’s just a few blocks away.

  • At the Wellspent Market on any given day, you can find the parking lot full of one to two or as many as six different vendors. From New York Times contributor Romel Bruno cooking up fried chicken sandwiches to homemade gelato from SE Portland hot spot Pinolo Gelato and Eat Balong’s pandesal, you’ll always find an exciting rotation of creative culinarians at this local grocer shop.

Banner Photo credit: Datsu Films - Magna Kusina